Manny Pacquiao's rematch win last night over Timothy Bradley proved that the 35-year-old Filipino superstar certainly has plenty left in the tank, and that another strong run here at the back end of his career is not only not out of the question, but seems a likelihood, if not a certainty.
Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38 KO) erased a blemish most people didn't even think was really there with his 12-round decision victory over Bradley (31-1, 12 KO), and now the question is simple: what next?
Let's take a look at some potential Manny suitors for later this year and into 2015, and potentially beyond.
Let's get it out of the way first. Yes, it's a fight that should happen. Yes, a lot of people still want to see it. I am one of them. Frankly, I think if you argue that you don't want to see this fight, you're revealing some kind of weird bias against ... something, I'm not sure what.
There's no reasonable doubt that Mayweather-Pacquiao is still a better fight than just about anything else that Floyd can make at 147 or 154 pounds. The Canelo fight last year was an excellent matchup, and Floyd did his usual thing. But is there anybody out there who's really going to pretend that they found Robert Guerrero a more interesting opponent than Manny would be, or the upcoming Marcos Maidana fight more compelling? Come on. Get serious.
Mayweather's in-house options with Golden Boy/Mayweather Promotions/Haymon Industries Inc. are getting thinner and thinner, just as Manny's are with Top Rank. Floyd and Manny aren't going to fight unless there's a massive shift in boxing politics, though, and while it's a shame, that's also the end of the story.
Winner of Juan Manuel Marquez vs Mike Alvarado
Marquez and Alvarado will meet on May 17 in Los Angeles, and Top Rank has already stated their intention to match the winner of that fight with the winner of the April 12 bout, which was Pacquiao. So that would mean either a fifth fight with Marquez, which I think there's still plenty of demand for, or a bout with Alvarado, which seems fairly weak right now, but if Alvarado went out and beat Marquez, would be a decent enough bout to make.
I think most would prefer that Marquez win and set up Pacquiao-Marquez V: Once and Five All, because that would in theory be the final settling of the great rivalry. But if it's Pacquiao-Alvarado, I can't imagine that fight being much bigger than Pacquiao-Rios was, especially with Manny looking so fantastic against Bradley, unless Alvarado did something spectacular with Marquez.
Here's the good news: Marquez-Alvarado means that there is a fight in place that will produce a Pacquiao challenger. In the unlikely event of a draw, surely Marquez would get the Pacquiao fight, for whatever it would then be worth.
Here's the bad news: This is all Top Rank really has for Manny right now. Most of the division's names on American shores are with the Haymon conglomerate -- Mayweather, Maidana, Guerrero, Malignaggi, Porter, Broner, Thurman, Alexander, Khan, Collazo, Garcia when he moves up, Matthysse. Those are all Showtime fighters.
Brook is an unbeaten challenger, but has no name value in the States, and anyway, he and promoter Eddie Hearn have targeted the IBF belt, and do intend to face next weekend's Porter-Malignaggi winner. I suppose Top Rank could overpay for Brook, but why would they?
Realistically, 2014 is set. Manny's going to fight the Marquez-Alvarado victor. As for 2015 and/or beyond, that's a whole other story. Maybe Jessie Vargas, who won a belt at 140 last night, will make himself a viable opponent by then? Maybe Ruslan Provodnikov will decide to get a new trainer and take a shot at Pacquiao? Maybe if Kermit Cintron wins a couple more fights against mid-level foes, HBO can be fooled into their umpteenth Cintron main event mistake?
It's not the prettiest long-term picture for Pacquiao at the moment, but boxing is a short-term entertainment option and sport these days. For all we know, a third fight with Bradley could come in 2015. But Top Rank at the moment doesn't seem to have a really big fight for Pacquiao, other than a fifth fight with Marquez. And what happens there? If Marquez wins, do they beg Juan Manuel for a sixth fight to break the 2-2-1 tie? If Manny wins, and he's officially 3-1-1 against Marquez, will anyone have made themselves a useful opponent for Pacquiao by that point?